Golden Ranches: A gleaming opportunity to explore east of Edmonton

Carys Richards freely admits the pandemic has been really hard on her, mentally. 

“Going outdoors has been one of those staples that has really kept me grounded and focused and able to kind of power through this really tough time,” says the staffer with the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Richards is not alone and she believes having places like the Beaver Hills Biosphere Reserve, east of the city, to escape to means Edmontonians are lucky.

‘So fresh and raw and wild’

2 days ago

Tag along on a tour of Golden Ranches with Nature Conservancy of Canada staffers Andi Romito and Carys Richards. 2:07

You can see more from Golden Ranches Conservation Site on Our Edmonton on Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon and 11 a.m. Monday on CBC TV and CBC GEM. 

One of the lesser known spots in the internationally recognized area is called Golden Ranches.

It’s sandwiched between two long-standing protected spaces, Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area and the Ministik International Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

The 550-hectare site was owned by horse and cattle rancher George Golden beginning in the 1950s.

In 2010, the family decided to sell and donate portions of the ranch to various conservation organizations like the Edmonton and Area Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Alberta Conservation Association to make it accessible to the public.

“I don’t want to spill the beans or reveal our secrets, but this is such a gem and I think people should be out here experiencing it,” Richards says. 

There are access points along the fence line at various spots at this site but no public vehicles allowed at Golden Ranches, east of Edmonton, Alta. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

The site is open to foot traffic for day use and has limited parking but Andi Romito says the space makes for a “fresh and raw and wild” experience for birdwatchers, cross-country skiers and hikers. 

“Protection like this happens when people work together,” says Romito, a senior development officer with the Nature Conservancy of Canada who is also the chair of the Beaver Hills Biosphere Reserve Association.

She points to the vast 1,572-square-kilometre protected area that includes portions of the counties of Strathcona, Leduc, Lamont, Beaver and Camrose.

The Golden Ranches site includes nearly 8 kilometres of North Cooking Lake shoreline which attracts many migratory birds. (David Bajer/CBC)

“You can see the biosphere from space, because it’s just an island of green next to the city, I think it really says something about the work being done here,” Romito says.

The area, located on Treaty 6 territory, is an important natural corridor for wildlife and migratory birds but is also vital to the understanding of the region’s Indigenous roots, according to Bob Montgomery.

Montgomery was recently hired as the Indigenous engagement coordinator for the biosphere. 

“My role is to help build relationships between the biosphere and the Indigenous people in the area but also to help them reconnect to their traditional territory,” he says.

He’s in the early stages of his work and relationship-building takes time but it’s been “fantastic to be in the traditional M├ętis homelands,” Montgomery says.

“It feels really good to be on the lands near where my ancestors have been.”

Signs of this properties past life as a cattle and horse ranch can be seen dotting the 550 hectare space at Golden Ranches east of Edmonton, Alta. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

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